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Hôtels Amour: André Saraiva’s Grand Romance

Fourteen years after opening in Paris, Hôtel Amour is bringing its quirky, kitch atmosphere and bohemian style to Nice.  Project cofounder, artist and entrepreneur André Saraiva tells us about the Amour hotels adventure.

Of Portuguese origin, André Saraiva is what you might call a Jack-of-all-trades. As an adolescent, he discovered the world of street art, which he was involved in through the 1980s, inventing his own character, Monsieur A, who he went on to portray on hundreds of walls in Paris and elsewhere in Europe, ultimately being exhibited in the world’s biggest museums and galleries. At one point he was chief editor of a magazine, then a director of short films, but he also proved to be a natural-born entrepreneur.  In 2004, he created Le Baron club, an iconic Parisian nightspot, which he also took to New York, Tokyo, London and Shanghai. He is also a member of the trio who started the Amour hotels. The story of these inimitable hotels all started over a dinner with friends.

At the table were André Saraiva and his two colleagues, the entrepreneur Thierry Costes and the restaurateur Emmanuel Delavenne. As they ate, they started imagining a hotel for artists, decorated by their friends. With rooms to rent by the hour, by the day or for a few nights, the three dreamers envisioned “an address for bohemian-minded mates”, as the creator of Monsieur A puts it. On the hilly streets of the Saint-Georges district, in a Pigalle area that wasn’t as nice and clean as it is today, the Hôtel Amour, with its rooms and restaurant, “put on the red light” in September 2006. It was the start of a saga on the dividing line between the arts and hospitality, and the beginnings of a “ Hôtel Amour way of life “. “Thierry Costes’ uncle had found a hotel of ill repute in the 9th arrondissement, near the rue des Martyrs, which was a lot less popular than it is these days”, says André Saraiva. “We pooled our savings and the three of us bought the hotel together.

At the beginning, artist mates of ours would come and stay for weeks on end; I lived there for a while, and I brought stuff from my apartment to furnish the place, it was like an extension of my house. Gradually, artist friends came to decorate the rooms, the restaurant opened up…“

Being free. In terms of the décor, the eclectic plastician Sophie Calle, the designer Marc Newson, the graphic artist duo M/M, André himself and the illustrator Pierre Le Tan… all of them set to work and decorated the hotel in their different styles in the space of just a few weeks. Around 20 rooms revealed their quirky décor: disco ceilings, 70s-style black lacquer, or even 100% candy pink. Some were covered in Man Ray art photography or work by the photographer Guy Bourdin, while others were turned into libraries. A style was born. Breaking completely with the hospitality industry of the time, deliberately challenging the usual ‘rules’ (no telephones or TVs in the rooms), this unusual hotel quickly became a success, certainly helped along by the affordable room rates.

“It wasn’t all about business,” André recalls, “it was about being free, living out our passion and opening up a place that would be full of stories.“

- Hôtels Amour Nice.jpg

Hôtel Amour soon became a trendy spot, frequented by the bankable Parisians on the social networks. It was a magical mix of passion, art and freedom, and it really caught on. Who said ‘love only lasts for 3 years’? Nine years later, history repeated itself with the Grand Hôtel Amour. After the “Love Hotel”, the “Big Love Hotel”, if you will. The three friends and associates got hold of a charmless, dusty hotel in the Faubourg-Saint-Denis district. Again, artists with different styles and distinctive aesthetics got to work to breathe new life into the building. The wildly arty Hôtel Grand Amour opened in 2015, in rue de la Fidélité (Fidelity street, you couldn’t make it up!). A sort of grand Parisian residence, with a packed restaurant every night (with Sunday brunch and guest chefs on a regular basis), and at its heart a charming patio where you can have enjoy drinks all evening, as well as back rooms that are open on certain evenings.

Upstairs at the Grand Amour, the rooms have a vintage feel, with 1930s to 50s furniture, works by Keith Haring or Dash Snow, and pictures by Helmut Newton. André Saraiva adds his touch:  he dreamed up the erotico-kitsch-inspired patterns on the Pierre Frey carpet in the corridors, and he created the huge, 17-metre tall Monsieur A on the corner of the building, made up of 1300 ceramic tiles. They say love knows no bounds, and nor does the hotel Amour saga… the next episode is set in Nice.

Near to the Negresco and the Promenade des Anglais, on avenue des Fleurs, the terrific trio snatched up a hotel that was for sale. “Nice came to us”, explains André Saraiva. “It’s a magical place, with the beach, the sea, a swimming pool, and there’s a history of young, creative artists coming here. It’s a town that, in certain parts, seems to be stuck in the 1950s and that breathes art all around its walls: the villa Arson, the nearby Maeght foundation, the Museum of Fine Arts… “. The third hotel in the group, the Hôtel Amour Nice follows the same codes and objectives as its Parisian predecessors, “It’s like a summer version of Hôtel Amour”, as André himself puts it. A place where you can switch off, in the shade of the flowering palm trees, Hôtel Amour Nice comprises thirty-eight rooms that are disarmingly simple, decorated with photos of pin-ups, objects collected over the years, and references to Riviera artists such as Picasso or Matisse. Some of the rooms have balconies here and there, and one of the prestige suites even has an outdoor shower. Built around a central patio, the hotel also has its own restaurant, “a cross between regional cooking and a Parisian café”, says André Saraiva, “ where you can enjoy panisses (chick pea chips), pissaladière (anchovy and onion tart), Menton lemon soup, of the catch of the day with Swiss chard… from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m…

On the Promenade des Anglais, with its sea-blue striped parasols, the pebbles underfoot and the colourful charm of the bougainvillea, Hôtel Amour’s first beach should be busy in high season. Music, performances and events under the Nice sun are already planned.

TEXT: Alexis Chenu, translation Sheila McCarron

PHOTO: Pierre Björk

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